Smearing Her Voice

I finished yesterday’s post with a complaint at how male Christianity has difficulty dealing with issues that involve female Christianity. In 2014 it pains me to even write such a ridiculous sentence, but let’s proceed as if there’s something to see here. In today’s post I’ll continue with the problems facing male Christianity by looking at a storm in a teacup over in the Anglican world in Sydney. A couple of years ago the Australian Christian apologist John Dickson wrote a little book called Hearing Her Voice. You’re probably unfamiliar with it so I’ll lift the overview straight from the publisher:

This original short work by scholar and cultural commentator John Dickson presents a new and persuasive biblical argument for allowing women to preach freely in churches.

For those of you not living in the Dark Ages the problem of women preaching in churches stems from 1 Timothy 2:12 which says:

I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.

Dickson’s persuasive biblical argument is to press ‘teach’ for a meaning in line with his idea that women should be allowed to preach freely in churches. The debate between Dickson and his opponents, which has gone back and forth via blogs and is still going on Facebook and probably in other places which I’m unaware of, argues about whether the word can hold such a meaning, what are the logical consequences of it doing so, whether Dickson’s interpretation holds up against other similar usages in the bible, etc, etc, etc. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah…

I groan, and I’ve never even read Hearing Her Voice. You see, you don’t even have to have read it to know that Dickson’s evidential approach is the wrong one. Here’s why.

Let’s imagine a tomorrow where Dickson is unequivocally proven right; irrefutable historical evidence is found that his reading of ‘teach’ is correct. Hooray, the truth is out and churches can return to their imagined golden age! Just like it was in the good old days women preach in church, and those churches which refuse them to do so are now on the wrong side of scripture.

The problem with this is that women are not being included because of their talents, their skills, their individual qualities nor even, to put it in the parlance of Dickson, for their voice. Rather, they are let into the clubhouse through the tradesman’s entrance because fortuitously for them it turns out that ancient Christian men were a darn sight more enlightened than their modern Christian brothers. This is a case which advances the cause of women as equal partners in the church not one jot.

Now let’s imagine a day after tomorrow where Dickson is unequivocally proven wrong; irrefutable historical evidence is found that his reading of ‘teach’ is incorrect. Hooray, the truth is out and churches can return to their imagined golden age! Just like it was in the good old days women are forbidden to preach in church, and those churches which allow them to do so are now on the wrong side of scripture.

As can be seen by comparing the two above imagined days, women preaching in church is not a question of unearthing a lost truth, but a moral debate. Whatever ‘teach’ meant to the early Christians has long been superseded by time and space; it is a moot point to a long squared away problem. Our modern world, at least the world I assume the 4 people who read this blog live in, has moved on from telling women what they can and cannot do. That churches are still debating these 20 odd words from an ancient book, with the rightness or wrongness of their interpretation hinging on one word, shows how close modern churches are to consigning themselves to the cultural waste bin.

But as I said yesterday, this is what happens when men look to the bible for what should be done in today’s world. We inherently know the right thing to do. The right thing to do here is to welcome women to preach freely, and Dickson knows this. The wrong way to go about securing that aim is to argue that the bible says it’s OK and to provide evidence to back this up. This is because evidence is itself a moral vacuum. One cannot blithely wander down the path of the scientific method armed with evidence in the hopes of securing a desired moral outcome; the path to success in no way supports the morality on trial while the path to failure silences it like a scalpel across the vocal cords. Dickson and his supporters need to take a long hard look at how their methodology sidelines the very women he claims to be empowering.

4 thoughts on “Smearing Her Voice

  1. Marco

    One cannot blithely wander down the path of the scientific method armed with evidence in the hopes of securing a desired moral outcome;
    I don’t think that is what he is doing. The aim in these things is justifying what are in essence human laws and rules of the church in the context of the bible being the true word of God. There is a bit of mental gymnastics in the sense that the words that are written can’t change, thus the only way to change church internal rules is, however it is explained, for the interpretation to change.

    I actually see this a lot in “science”. Biologists are loath to contradict Darwinism on a washy washy word such as “random” and as such even mutations that appear too convenient to be random are explained away as exceptions etcetera (or fast acting “selection”) so as to not appear to be putting evolutionist dogma to the test (not really knowing scientifically where non-randomness might originate, it is fobbed off)

    Reply
  2. winstoninabox Post author

    “I don’t think that is what he is doing.”

    The question of what Dickson’s intention is would be answered by posing the second imagined day to him. It’s the dilemma all progressive Christians have. It’s also interesting to imagine what would happen if day 2 followed a generation after day 1.

    “The aim in these things is justifying what are in essence human laws and rules of the church in the context of the bible being the true word of God. There is a bit of mental gymnastics in the sense that the words that are written can’t change, thus the only way to change church internal rules is, however it is explained, for the interpretation to change.”

    What you’ve said above doesn’t match with what is happening with the more progressive followers who I would count Dickson among. They’re subjecting the church to a bit of a revival of egalitarianism at the moment, with the early church in particular being reinterpreted as a classless entity. It seems that modern sensibilities can have a fairly close fit with what was happening at the time, which was different sexes and classes meeting to worship. Women in the early church are sort of ‘equal but different’, and so even though 1 Timothy 2:12 fits in with the ‘but different’ part, they’re having trouble with the ‘equal’.

    I’m not surprised that there is an overlap between the classlessness of the early church and modern liberal attitudes, but I think this classlessness came about for different reasons. The early church’s classlessness would have been of necessity; when you’re in a not popular religion that’s in the minority it’s no surprise that adherents worshiped wherever and with whomever they could. When the situation changed and Christianity was in ascendance, given the patriarchal society, women were relegated to roles with less power in the church. When modern progressives look back to the early church as a blueprint for how the modern church should be structured they fail to realize that the classlessness only existed of necessity and not because society had evolved to a point where the education and social emancipation of women was valued.

    Reply
  3. The Skept

    The thing about this debate that has always perplexed me is not the ‘rule’ itself in 1 Tim 2:12, about what a woman can or cannot do. But rather, the justifications given for that rule, in the next two verses, and the fact that these seem to be accepted by modern Christians without debate:
    13: For Adam was formed first, then Eve,
    14: And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.

    Really?!
    Modern, ‘sophisticated’ Christians seem to have a certain take on this:
    This just means that God has different roles for men and women…
    I call bullshit on that.
    1 Tim 2:13-14 states clearly that women are secondary and inferior to men. This is the reason why they must remain ‘silent’ and why they must not ‘teach’. There is no open to interpretation argument here – Paul is pretty damn specific about it.
    I have no sympathies with any sect of Christianity. But surely the sooner they jettison the ignorant garbage bits of the New Testament, like this one – just as they have done with (some of) the appalling nonsense of the Old Testament – the better off they’ll be on the whole egalitarianism thing.

    Reply
    1. winstoninabox Post author

      Thanks for the reply.
      It’s an interesting quote because of its two halves. The first prescribes what women can’t do, which is bad enough, but the second prescribes what they should do when in that situation – remain quiet. The first half sits badly with our modern sense of equality, the second half is just outrageous. I’ve no idea if Dickson talks about this second case in “Hearing Her Voice”, but it is another problem that modern Christians would have a great deal of difficulty in reinterpreting ‘quiet’.

      Reply

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